Saturday, August 21, 2010

June, July and August

Summer time is a wonderful time of the year. Where I live, summer time means sunshine, heat and humidity. It also means a chance to complete a project or two that was ignored during the busy school year.  This summer's project was the pond project.

The pond project was precipitated (no pun intended) by the loss of two trees during the previous fall. One tree was a 60-foot tall, aging ash that swayed in the wind with such an amplitude that we expected it to fall at anytime. The other tree was a 30-foot tall American elm - the last of the original 13 that was present in our yard when we bought the home. The other 12 elms were overcome by Dutch elm disease; we expected the same fate for this elm. Removing these two trees from our landscape left large holes, both in the ground and in the visual field between our home and our neighbors. With the landscape cleared of the two trees, we were confronted with the obvious need to impart some freshness into a yard which had for far too long been dominated by these two old, decrepit-looking beasts.

Part of the solution to the need to impart freshness into our landscape was the undertaking of the pond project. The plan was to build a small pond (6'x9') and waterfall in our back yard. After researching the topic, I became convinced that it was an easy enough project to qualify as a do-it-yourself project. For certain, it would be both a stretch and a challenge, but nonetheless a do-able task. Like many of these do-it-yourself projects, the pond project would help keep my spirit young (and make my body older) while I devoted myself to learning a new set of skills and a new way of thinking. Having never built a pond before, the project was clearly a venture outside of my safety zone. While intimidating at times, venturing outside of your personal safety zone can be a really good thing.

You have likely heard the saying: There are three good reasons to go into teaching: June, July, and August. I love teaching. And fortunately I have more than three reasons to have entered into this honorable profession. But I, like my students, do agree that June, July and August are wonderful months.  These three months offer us time to relax, to regroup, to spend more quality time with family, to travel, and to pursue interests that were limited during the previous nine months. There are no papers to grade, no lessons to prepare, and no tardy forms to fill out. There is no equipment to fix, to clean or to put away. June, July and August offers teachers (and students) a time to get away - to get away from the day-to-day grind of school.

But June, July and August is also a time to retool, to rethink and to recharge. It's a time to reflect on what went well and what can be improved. It's a time to improve. It's a time to build. It's a time to prepare, to get ready, and to get started. As a colleague of mine often says, "June, July and August makes it possible to hit the ground running once that first day of school comes."

June, July and August gives us an opportunity to inspect the landscape and to make changes. It's a time to consider ridding the landscape of those aging beasts that have been around for far too long and to inject a little freshness into our practices. In our profession of teaching, we all need a pond project. Once a year, we need to take the time to consider a change. We need a chance to learn a new set of skills and a new way of thinking about our instruction, our assessment, our curriculum, and our other practices. We need a chance to venture outside of our safety zone.

June, July and August offers teachers an invitation to try something new and fresh. It provides us with the gift of time to ponder the possibility of adopting a challenge. While intimidating at times, changes in our practices and our way of thinking can be a good thing. The words of my department chair resonates in my mind:
"There are some teachers who have taught their first year 20 times; there are other teachers who have 20 years of experience."
Sometimes the landscape of our teaching practices needs some change, some freshness, and some improvement. It gets old, decrepit and at times diseased. If we're not careful, some deadwood may come crashing down during a storm. June, July and August is a wonderful time.

I hope you have had a good summer. And as the new school year approaches, I hope you are considering your landscape. I hope that this year adds one more year to your teaching experience. And I hope that this school year affords you a chance to do some traveling ... outside of your safety zone.

Have a great school year!


This article is contributed by Tom Henderson. Tom is the author of The Physics Classroom website.  He is a graduate of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He has been a high school physics teacher since 1989. Tom currently teaches Honors ChemPhys (Physics portion) and Honors Chemistry at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, IL, where he has taught since 1989. 

Feel free to stop back by the Lab Blab and Other Gab blog as we explore a variety of topics this coming school year. Topics will range from the use of lab journals in the science classroom to ways of improving our approaches to scientific inquiry. And along the way, we may also investigate ways of improving the scientific literacy of our students.

The following teachers follow this blog:

Visit The Physics Classroom on FaceBook